Make us your home page
Instagram

Florida's job engine is sputtering

The little job engine that could — the one that kept the Tampa Bay area and Florida in the top tier of economic powerhouses the past few years — has been sputtering and backfiring.

And the black smoke was especially thick last week as 200 of the state's top economic development officials gathered in Tampa to assess their uncharacteristically depleted state. The bleak news came in triplicate:

• The state has defunded and depleted its Innovation Incentive Fund, cash subsidies totaling more than $400-million that helped snag such flagship companies as bioscience researcher Scripps in Palm Beach and marine science bigwig SRI in St. Petersburg.

• Even retaining what businesses we have could be problematic. John Adams, president of Enterprise Florida, the state's top business recruitment agency, warned that we've become a "target-rich environment" for other states eager to steal away our good-paying jobs. North Carolina is one of the biggest culprits.

• Two separate benchmark studies comparing our state and region to other U.S. competitors rated us either last or close to last on criteria such as our ability to attract high-tech companies.

"Do you really want to transform? Do you really want to move forward?" said Del Boyette, a business recruitment consultant who addressed a room full of Florida economic development officials in Tampa last week.

The jobs picture reflects the turmoil. Florida lost 25,300 jobs in April, the worst performance in the nation, worse even than Michigan's. The state's unemployment rate has crept up to 4.9 percent.

The housing slump gets most of the blame, but it's no secret that recessionary fears are postponing hiring in healthier fields, as well.

The spate of mostly bad news has forced a critical reassessment from Florida's economic development officials, eager to wean the economy from its reliance on tourism and construction. More than a few visiting Tampa last week noted how the governor and Legislature rebuffed a request for tax credits for research and development companies, an incentive available in at least 40 states.

"It's a hard pill to swallow. That's a big one," said Pinellas County economic development director Mike Meidel. "Every time an R&D company comes in, they say, 'You mean we've got to pay for this? We don't even have to pay for this in Jersey.' "

Boyette compounded the pain by previewing a study commissioned by the Florida High-Tech Corridor to gauge Florida's strength in attracting cutting-edge industries. It measured the state against the likes of North Carolina, Texas and New York. Conclusion: Florida doesn't match up.

Boyette's associate Charlie Sloan said the gripe against Florida is that business recruitment is uncoordinated and inconsistent. An example was this year's divestment of the innovation fund that Gov. Jeb Bush used to such dramatic effect. In addition to St. Petersburg's SRI, which tapped $20-million of the innovation money, Tampa used $15-million to seal a deal between H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and drugmaker Merck.

"We have to be honest about our strengths and weaknesses, and not believe our own press releases," Sloan said during a presentation at the Tampa conference hosted by the Florida Economic Development Council.

On the same day as Sloan's criticisms, the Tampa Bay Partnership announced that the seven-county region it markets had fallen to last place on its "economic scorecard." We've fallen behind five other metro areas: Jacksonville, Atlanta, Dallas, and Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, N.C.

Another prickly point is Florida property taxes. Recent reforms relieved homeowners but burdened business owners to the detriment of job creation, said economist Rick Harper of the University of West Florida. If we boost average wages, we won't have to worry so much about home affordability, he said.

"Technology can go anywhere — so can the workers," Harper said.

In this financially strapped year, Enterprise Florida advised counties to focus on retention and deflect the inevitable business recruitment overtures from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Pinellas lost a big fish this year when Evatone, a media and printing company on Ulmerton Road, moved most of its 300 employees to Mocksville, N.C. The Tarheel State offered lower fees and property taxes.

One bright spot has been Florida exports. They set a record at $45-billion last year, thanks in part to a weak dollar that made Florida goods seem cheaper to foreigners.

Another geographic bright light has been Jacksonville, where recruiter Jerry Mallot, former senior vice president at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, has focused on wooing overseas investment.

Deutsche Bank has agreed to bring 1,000 jobs to the region, and Mallot said instability in places like Venezuela has created a spigot of money directed at Florida — if the state is ready to capitalize on it.

"You've got to be prepared to be lucky," Mallot said.

Florida's job engine is sputtering 05/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 10:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally

    Business

    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  3. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members

    News

    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  4. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion

    Markets

    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]